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B.C. Liberals hire staff from ousted federal, Alberta Conservatives

Influx from Ottawa and Edmonton could send tricky messages, say experts
Nicholas Koolsbergen has been appointed an executive director in the B.C. government's communications wing and will be paid between $80,000 and $113,000 a year.

It appears out-of-work roughnecks from Alberta aren’t the only ones heading west across the Rockies in search of greener pastures.

Judging by a recent string of political appointments, British Columbia is also a hot destination for recently unemployed Stephen Harper Conservatives and staffers from Alberta’s defeated Conservative government.

Since last month, about a dozen Conservative-aligned political staffers have found employment with the B.C. government.

Included in the wave is Nicholas Koolsbergen, Harper’s former director of issues management, who once made headlines for purportedly co-writing a memo requesting government staff to develop “enemy” lists for incoming ministers.

Koolsbergen, whose resumé includes a one-year stint as the director of communications for Calgary MP Jason Kenney, was appointed an executive director in the B.C. government’s communications wing — Government Communications and Public Engagement (GCPE) — effective Jan. 22, 2016, according to Order in Council No. 21. He will be paid between $80,000 and $113,000 a year.

Other appointments, ranging from executive assistants to chiefs of staff, have been to key B.C. ministries, including: health; jobs, tourism and skills training; environment; and justice. Carter Mann, one-time press secretary to former MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay, was appointed the new operations co-ordinator in the Premier’s Office.

It’s not unusual for a government to hire people, including staffers from other administrations, from different parts of the country. Following the NDP’s win in Alberta, staffers from B.C., including John Horgan’s chief of staff, headed east across the Rockies. More recently, about three staffers employed within B.C. ministries headed to Ottawa to serve in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.

Even so, Dermod Travis, the executive director of government watchdog Integrity B.C., says the Conservative influx could pose a series of challenges for the B.C. government, from strained relations between provincial ministries and their federal counterparts, to issues of confidentiality, to the possibility of sending a “Harper tone” to British Columbians.

“It also raises the question as to whether all of these positions were to fill existing vacancies,” Travis said.

“My suspicion is that they are add-ons — that they moved staff around to bring in more individuals, which sends a bad message that a year out from the 2017 election, you are beefing up your publicly paid political staff.”

A government representative said on background that the hires were replacements to accommodate movement of existing staff between ministries, and that overall staffing levels and budgets have not increased.

Max Cameron, a professor of political science at UBC, said the wave of appointments raises an interesting question as to the political alignment of Christy Clark’s Liberal government, which is a coalition of federal Liberals and federal Conservatives.

“This reinforces the impression that the B.C. Liberal government was more closely aligned with the previous Conservative federal government than it is with the current federal Liberals,” Cameron said in an email, noting it is not the first time political staffers from the federal Conservatives have made their way to B.C.

In the run-up to the 2013 provincial election, several big-name federal Conservative operators, including Ken Boessenkool, Sarah MacIntyre and Dimitri Pantazopoulos, joined the Premier’s Office in varying roles, including chief of staff and principal secretary.

“The current exodus from Ottawa and Edmonton seems to be of greater magnitude,” said Cameron.


Alexander Shiff

Current: Executive assistant to Environment Minister Mary Polak.

Past: Campaign co-ordinator for Erinn Broshko, Conservative candidate for Vancouver-Granville. Campaign intern for Joe Oliver and Christine Elliot’s campaigns in Ontario.

Anish Dwivedi

Current: Manager, event services, Government Communications and Public Engagement.

Past: Special adviser, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Advance to the Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister.

William Anderson

Current: Director of communications, Government Communications and Public Engagement.

Past: Press Secretary, PC Association of Alberta, executive assistant to the Minister of Natural Resources Canada.

Kent Verge

Current: Chief of staff to Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training.

Past: Senior policy adviser to Office of the Minister of Transport, policy adviser to the Office of the Minister of Environment

Nicholas Koolsbergen

Current: Executive director, Communications Operations, Government Communications and Public Engagement.

Past: Director of Issues Management, Office of the Prime Minister, director of communications, Office of the Honourable Jason Kenney.

Carter Mann

Current: Operations co-ordinator, Office of the Premier.

Past: Press secretary to the Minister of National Revenue, press secretary, Department of National Defence, executive assistant to the Minister of Public Safety, Parliamentary secretary to Stockwell Day.

Zoe Keirstead

Current: Executive assistant to Agriculture Miniser Norm Letnick.

Past: Special assistant to the Minister of Labour and Status of Women.

Brittany Allison

Current: Executive assistant to Suzanne Anton, Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

Past: Policy researcher, Office of the Prime Minister.

Nathan Clark

Current: Executive assistant to Transportation Minister Todd Stone.

Past: Special assistant, parliamentary affairs, Office of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Jessica Faddegon

Current: Executive assistant to International Trade Minister Teresa Wat.

Past: Press secretary for committee to re-elect John Weston, former Tory MP for West Vancouver Sunshine Coast, parliamentary assistant to Weston.

Martyn Lafrance

Current: Chief of staff to Health Minister Terry Lake.

Past: Chief of staff to three ministries in the government of Alberta over a three-year period.

Josh Stewart

Current: Chief of staff to Suzanne Anton, Minister of Justice and the Attorney General

Past: Executive assistant/spokesman to Jonathan Denis, Alberta’s former Progressive Conservative minister of justice.